Nkandla Day 13 - Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve

Seeing animals in the wild is sooooo different than seeing them in the zoo. I don't really know how to describe it. There's just something magical about it. A few minutes later, driving more slowly now, we came upon two Rhino, who I so lovingly ended up naming Felix and Claire, in a field very close to the road. This time they didn't scurry off. In fact, they even put on a show for us... One of the Rhino apparently had an itch that couldn't wait for a more private time and walked over to a big rock, straddled it, and before we knew it starting pretty much humping it! Haha oh man it was definitely a sight to see. The next encounter we had with Rhino (as there turned out to be many many that day) was a scary one.

Driving along we came upon a mother Rhino and her baby (SO CUTE) crossing the road in front of us. Just as they were getting to the other side the Mama Rhino stopped, tucked her baby on the opposite side of her from us and froze, blocking the road. A few seconds later we saw movement in our peripheral and looked over to see the ENORMOUS papa Rhino literally staring us down. As I leaned over the window to take photos he began charging towards us! We were about to throw the car in reverse to try to get the crud out of there when thankfully he changed courses and went and took the place of the mama and baby in the middle of the road. We gave him and his family some space and waited for a few minutes to see is they would move but the papa rhino has absolutely NO intention of letting anyone through haha. We decided to double back and I'm so glad we did because we stumbled onto the rarest finding of the entire trip! Along side of the road were a line of cars staring up at a tree not far off the road. We discovered that there was a dead, partly eaten impala that a leopard had taken up in the tree. The leopard was now taking a snooze at the base of tree! The shrub was very thick and there were a lot of cars taking up the good view points so we waited patiently and finally found a good spot where we could see the leopard. Oh man it was so cool. This leopard was probably one of the most beautiful animals I saw at the park. Its eyes were piercing. Think of what strength it must have taken to carry that Impala (that easily weighed over 100 lbs) into the tree with him. Not only that, but they hunt alone and live alone. They're not like other animals that travel/live in packs (lion, giraffe, elephant etc.). Man they are such incredible creatures. Unfortunately after a few minutes this family pulled up next to us and their IDIOT teenage son went jumping out of the car to see what the fuss was about. In the game reserve you're NOT allowed to leave your car. Not only is it completely dangerous, but you can startle the animals either pissing them off or chasing them away. Sadly in this case (as I would have liked to see a leopard attack, haha j/k) the boy frightened the leopard, making him run off into the bush.

We got to see lions too! Oh man we were so lucky. We drove up to the river bed and saw a safari group that had gotten out of the truck and set up high powered binoculars. About 2 football fields away sitting on the edge of the riverbank were a family of lions (about 6 of them).

They were so majestic looking. There was even a cub snuggling up to one of the females which was so adorable. After a few minutes one of the lions got up and started walking away. None of us saw where he went which made us a little uneasy. After a few more minutes of riverbank where we found one of the lions (the one that got up and walked away) lying in the field.

The next "big 5" animals we saw were the African Buffalo. These creatures are known for being extremely shy and always dirty. They look like old ladies with huge wigs on (because of the horns). Susanna (from Holland, remember) said they look like Dutch milk girls haha. I'll be honest...not the most magnificent or regal looking animals but apparently very dangerous.

Towards the end of our drive we finally saw Giraffe! They are so TALL and so graceful; much more beautiful in the wild than cooped up in a barn at a zoo. The giraffe were probably one of the more fun animals to see because like zebra, they are not at all aggressive and didn't get freaked when we came around. On to top of that they are just so goofy looking; like really big camels with long long necks.

Around 5pm we finally arrived at the Hilltop Chalet. There is no camping allowed in the park so one either must camp outside of the park or rent one of the many chalets within. Dominic, Susanna, and Miriam stayed in a campers lodge just outside of the reserve but insisted that we stay in one of the chalets. To our favor, one of the Hilltop chalets was available, giving us an incredible view of the valley. At that point in the day we were so proud that we had seen 4/5 main animals and much much more. Kahlah's favorite animal is the elephant, however, and we were kinda bummed that we hadn't see any yet. Lucky when we walked to the back of the restaurant to check out the view, in the distance we very clearly saw an elephant walking along the road! So that was that...all 5 in one day. Dominic was telling us that people spend YEARS hoping to see the big 5 and we saw them all in a matter of hours.

Just when you'd think we'd head in for the night (considering we'd already been up for 14 hours) we decided last minute to take a sunset safari ride (the ones in those big open trucks). They say that whether you'll really see any animals is pretty much hit or miss, but the idea is to see the nocturnal animals that you wouldn't normally see during the day. Unfortunately for us we didn't really see anything that we didn't already see that day but oh well.